Langford mayor calls out province as homeless camp moves into Goldstream Park
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Wednesday, September 19, 2018 10:31AM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 19, 2018 6:52PM PDT
A day after displaced occupants of a tent city in Saanich moved into a provincial park near Langford, the city's mayor is calling on the province to do more in the fight against homelessness.
Around 20 tent city residents forced out of two encampments in the last week left Saanich entirely Tuesday and relocated to Goldstream Provincial Park.
Camp organizers say the move is the outcome of two evictions – the first at Regina Park last Friday and then being expelled from provincial land along Ravine Way Tuesday morning.
They say their plan is to stay at Goldstream Provincial Park for at least two weeks, the maximum allowable stay at provincial campgrounds.
"Persons with disabilities can camp up to two weeks for free in a provincial campground, and there's a social housing program that's willing to help," said organizer Chrissy Brett.
"I'm sure we'll have friends and family and other people who will be getting a hold of us and saying hey, do you guys need to go into town to get food?" said resident Charles Walkus.
Supporters of the camp say it'll be a welcome break after a demanding week.
"I think that people need some peace and quiet and some time to get settled, and that's going to be good for them," said Marilou Gagnon. "I mean, it's been a very stressful week."
But news that the camp has moved into the outskirts of Langford isn't sitting well with mayor Stew Young.
"It's almost like when they show up in your community it's like, 'Oh we're a tent city, it's okay to do all these illegal things,' and everybody turns a blind eye, but we can't do that out here," said Young. "You want to be in Langford, this is a small, family-oriented community."
He's calling on the province to step in and do something as soon as possible.
"The province needs to get in front of this thing and actually assess these people, find out what their needs are, send them where they have to go to get help," said Young.
But reports surfaced around 6:30 p.m. online that police had blocked off access to Goldstream Provincial Park. CTV News has reached out to West Shore RCMP for a comment.
JUST IN: Homeless advocates say police aren't letting residents of a former tent city into Goldstream Provincial Park, where they set up camp last night. We'll have an update on CTV News at 11 tonight. Photo: @mlgagnon_XVII pic.twitter.com/wMBOYCTmOG— CTV News VI (@CTVNewsVI) September 20, 2018
Advocates say help is sorely missing for Greater Victoria's homeless population, and that the number of homeless shelters operating isn't enough.
"We know there's not enough for everyone and people are vying, it's like musical chairs, somebody's left out all the time when the music stops," said Kathy Stinson with the Victoria Cool Aid Society.
CTV News looked into the number of available shelter beds in the Capital Region and found that there were no spots available at any shelters in the region.
All 125 shelter beds that Cool Aid offers are currently full, 108 beds have been filled at Our Place Society, 60 beds are taken at the Salvation Army and the Portland Hotel Society has filled all of its 50 beds.
"We have a crisis here," said Don Evans from Our Place. "We need shelter beds while the permanent housing is being built."
It's become such a critical issue that protesters staged a sit-in protest at the Coquitlam office for B.C. housing minister Selina Robinson on Wednesday.
They held signs like "The NDP Hates the Homeless" and "We Stand with Namegans Nation," referring to the group of homeless people who moved from park to park in Saanich.
The minister wasn't available for comment but issued a statement that seemingly put the blame back on B.C. municipalities.
"Unfortunately, while we already have 2,000 new modular homes in development across B.C., only one site for 21 units was identified in Victoria, and no other local governments within the CRD have identified land where we could build these homes," the statement read.
Even the promise of potential homes is little comfort to homeless people like Don, who moved to Goldstream Park with fellow campers.
"We've tried it, but they're all full," he said.
The province says its ultimate goal is to get people into shelters and long-term housing, and is expediting the opening of winter shelters as soon as possible. That includes 25 beds that are set to open Oct. 1 at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.